[Marxism] Cuba and China - discussion
walterlx at earthlink.net
walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Mar 6 17:54:55 MST 2005
The close alliance between Cuba and China has engendered lots
of discussion about the differences, and some as well about
the similarities between the two countries. The following is
a comment which I made in response to a discussion article on
China and Cuba which appeared on the Greenleft_discussion list
Readers of the CubaNews list who might wish to discuss the
relations between these two countries and what they might
mean are welcomed to do so. Please keep your contributions
focused on the relations between Cuba and China.
This is a short and incomplete discussion of the points made
by Michael Berrell regarding China and Cuba. His points were}
well-taken and well-expressed. Just passing through Mexico for
two days, I don´t have time to discuss them in detail, but did
want to acknowledge them as a useful contribution to us for an
understanding of the two different processes going on in the
One decisive difference between the processes which occurred
in Eastern Europe versus that of Cuba is that, with the sole
exception of Yugoslavia, the other countries of Eastern Europe
did not have their own indigenous revolutions. The abolition
of capitalism was accomplished by the power of the Red Army as
it overthrew the Nazi-sympathizing regimes of the region and
this is a decisive difference. Resentments in Eastern Europ of
the various problems in their processes inevitably took national
or nationalistic form. That hasn´t been the case with Cuba and
those differences are ones which affect everything.
Michael says that in recent weeks Cuba has taken steps to rein
in concessions made to private enterprise. He presents no facts
to back up the assertion, and then makes observations about the
things which motivate Fidel Castro as an individual. This is an
area of speculation and not buttressed by solid material facts.
Having been in Cuba for the past five months, I hadnÂ´t heard of
the measures Michael says were implemented in recent weeks.
There are questions which anyone can reasonably ask about the
extent to which Cubans widely engage in practices which I like
to describe as being "outside the legal framework". It´s clear
to anyone who spends much time on the island that few people
live on their peso salaries alone. The informal sector (nice
radical visitors donÂ´t call it "the black market" though that
is the term Cubans themselve use for it) plays a significant
part in Cuban life. Don´t ask me for a statistical breakdown
as my comment is just anecdotal based on my own observations.
In time, something will have to be done about the fact that so
many people do live outside the formal legal framework, but it
must be kept in mind, at ALL times, that Cuba lives, exists,
persists and survives in a specific, distinctive situation.
Cuba is a blockaded country and that blockade affects and warps
everything. Nothing about Cuba can be understood without this.
Keep in mind at all times that Cuba is and remains the only
country on the planet where a hostile military base continues
to occupy national soil and whose country is committed to an
active policy of strangulation and destabilization of CubaÂ´s
social, economic and political system. In these conditions of
war, both military (the Guantanamo base), economic (Helms-Burton
and so on) and political (Bush transition commission report) the
talk of the "lack of democratic institutions" is ahistoric and
misses decisive elements which affect Cuba and the kinds of
political institutions it can have.
The call which Trotkyists used to make for the restoration of
workers democracy, for soviets and for a multi-party system
(as long as the multi-parties claimed to support the system of
nationalized property and a planned economy) made sense for a
country, the USSR, where these things had once existed. Cuba
did not have such an experience, so you couldnÂ´t call for the
restoration of something which had never happened. In China
and Vietnam, too, no such institutions had existed as part of
their revolutionary processes. Trotskyists used to call them
"deformed workers states" because of their origins.
Trotskyists in those countries were bypassed or pushed aside
in the process of making their revolutions. From what IÂ´ve
read, they were not treated courteously. They were repressed.
But can we say today, and should we say today, in 2005, that
whatever was done to the Vietnamese and Chinese Trotskyists
in the 1940s cancels out what has happened since? In my view,
to ask the question is to answer it.
China, by the way, is not blockaded, any longer. Well, of course
there´s something of a blockade on the sale of Western arms to
China, but the US is trying to maintain that blockade while the
Europeans seem intent on arms sales to Cuba. Much changes when
a country isn´t blockaded.
And I might as well make it clear that, in my view, China is
not led by capitalists, but by the Communist Party. They made
a strategic decision to open the country up to capitalist forms
of investment far, far greater than Cuba has, but the commanding
heights of the Chinese economy and political structure, that is,
the banks and the armed forces, remain in the hands of the state,
as does the decisive power in the economy. China is a capitalist
state, though great concessions have been made toward capitalism.
That´s a longer discussion for a separate occasion, it seems to me.
Arthur Miller´s essay on his visit to Cuba in the year 2000
were not very helpful, however factually accurate they might
have been as expressions of his perceptions in Cuba at the
time. They were his contribution to a book of photographs and
comments called CUBA ON THE EDGE, or something like that and
were later reprinted by THE NATION. The Cuban media, which ran
a number of sympathetic articles about Miller, particularly his
role as an opponent of the McCarthy-era witch-hunts of the 50s,
made little or no mention of his comments on Cuba, which won´t,
in my view, go down in history as among his most important.
The second was by a bourgeois journalist named Tracey Eaton whose
final essay from Cuba had a mixture of good and yuck, but was in
my view useful information for those following Cuba to consider.
Again, thanks to Michael Berrell for a thoughtful discussion.
It's of such interest that I plan to share it with the CubaNews
and other lists in hopes it will engender a discussion on a
similar level. It represents the kinds of informed and thoughtful
discussion not often found on the internet.
Walter Lippmann, CubaNews
From: michael berrell dennyben at bigpond.net.au
Date: Sun, 06 Mar 2005 07:22:05 -0000
To: GreenLeft_discussion at yahoogroups.com
Subject: [GreenLeft_discussion] CHINA AND CUBA
A few weeks ago Walter forwarded a couple of very interesting
articles concerning Cuba to the list. One was an impression of a
visit to Cuba by Arthur Miller in 2000 including a meeting with
Fidel Castro and another was by an American journalist who was
returning to the United States after several years of covering Cuba.
I thought they gave a fairly balanced and probably accurate picture
of life in Cuba today. Both articles acknowledged the good things
about Cuba, its world class health and education systems and the
lack of the enormous differentials one sees in wealth in most
developing countries, particularly throughout the rest of Latin
America. In addition to this Cuba also spends much of her resources
in helping the poor in other nations most notably in sending doctors
and dentists to Haiti, Venezuela and Guatemala.
However at the same time the articles acknowledged certain
problems in Cuba, the lack of democratic institutions, lack of
consumer goods etc. The main criticism of Cuba which emanates from
hostile right wing sources is yes Cuba is a relatively egalitarian
society but it is a society where everyone is equally poor,
Socialism is therefore holding back opportunities for wealth
creation in Cuba. There is a certain validity to this argument.
Marx specifically warned about the "generalisation of want" which
would result from attempting to build a Socialist society in
conditions of material scarcity.
In my view, problems in so far as they exist in Cuba emanate
directly from this "generalisation of want", the low level of her
social and economic development and consequently the low level of
development of her productive forces. Cuba exhibits many of the
problems which afflicted Socialism in Eastern Europe, the lack of
consumer goods and the struggle to achieve sustained economic
growth. Someone made the good point about Cuba not squandering its
scarce resources on armaments. At the time of the collapse of
Socialism within the former Soviet Union, her health indicators in
contrast with present day Cuba were very poor this was as a direct
result of the Soviet Union directing nearly all her resources into
the ultimately futile attempt of keeping pace with the United States
in the arms race.
On top of this we have word of a report from within the Communist
Party of China advising the Communist Party of Cuba to embrace
privatisation and embrace market forces as a way of revitalising her
economy. First we can be fairly certain this advice will be politely
acknowledged but ignored while Castro remains in charge. When Castro
inevitably leaves the scene the scenario is less certain. As Michael
K. correctly points out certain sections within the Cuban CP are
enamoured with the economic reform process in China and see it as a
possible model for Cuba to follow. Second, it is not at all certain
that unleashing market forces in Cuba would have the same effect in
Cuba as it has done in China, one just has to look at Haiti, The
Dominican Republic, Guatemala etc to see examples of where
Capitalism has created enormous differentials in wealth without much
China and Cuba represent to opposite extremes. Cuba, over the past
few weeks has moved to rein in the concessions made to private
enterprise and return to a classic centrally planned command
economy. Castro likes things the way they were in the Soviet Union
at the height of Brezhnevism both politically and economically.
Deviations from this model were made only with the greatest
reluctance and out of desperation, now that the worst of the crisis
has been negotiated and new money is pouring in from China, Csstro
feels confident enough to go back to the way things were. In stark
contrast China, over a period of time has moved to dismantle its
centrally planned economy and has embraced privatization and market
forces with great gusto, which led to rapid economic growth and the
creation of wealth as well as opening up enormous differentials in
wealth. My attitude to this has been ambivalent. We must ask
ourselves why the Maoist experiment was such a colossal failure in
I would argue for essentially the same reasons that Socialism
eventually ran aground in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. And
we can differ on this. Some like Bob Gould I suspect would argue
that Socialism ran aground in the Soviet Union some time in the
1920s others would argue that Socialism ran aground there some time
in the late 1970s or anytime in between. In my opinion David
Christian's arguments as to why Socialism ultimately failed in the
Soviet Union are equally true of China, probably even more so
considering that the China of 1949 was even more backward and
impoverished than the Russia of 1917.
When Deng Xiaoping initially launched the economic reform
programme in China in 1978 it was meant to be a variation of the
NEP, the Communist Party would use market mechanisms to kick start
its economy which was only then emerging from the tumult of a decade
of Cultural Revolution and utilise advanced technology which had
been developed under Capitalism. Economic reform was also launched
under the sound Marxist premise that any future Communist society
had to be one of material abundance not one of shared
impoverishment. The economic problems which engulfed the Soviet
Union and Eastern Europe and subsequently led to the collapse of
Socialism in those countries seemed to vindicate Deng's strategy for
In a way, Deng's position was analogous with the old
Menshevik arguments made in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik
Revolution. China could not skip over a vital stage of historical
and economic development. Here is where the economic reform
programme diverged from the original NEP. The Communist Party would
not only have to make certain concessions to Capitalism, as with NEP
but would have to embrace Capitalism in its entirety. China would
have to undergo a stage of Capitalist Development before it could
proceed to Socialism as the Mensheviks had argued about Russia in
1917. As a consequence of this policy everything was subordinated
to the development of the Productive Forces.
Unlike some Trotskyists who see China's meteroric rise as being
someting of a chimera I would argue that there is evidence that
Capitalism is performing, from a Marxist point of view,it's
historical developmental role. Capitalism in China is creating
enormous wealth, her Productive Forces are being developed. This
development has been achieved at enormous human cost, as was the
creation of wealth observed in Western Europe in Marx's time. It is
Capitalist exploitation in its most brutal form. There is now
nothing remotely Socialist about China. Many in the west look at
modern China with envy and envisage this is what the future in the
west will look like, no unions, no Social Welfare, almost unlimited
unfettered Capitalism accompanied by breakneck growth. Some on this
list talk about the restoration of Capitalism in China whereas I
argue that Communism lays ahead of China, a society which will
ultimately rest on the highest levels of the Productive Forces
developed under Capitalism.
The point I'm trying to make in a rather long winded and confused
post is that China and Cuba represent two extremes, China with the
unfettered release of market forces which has led to rapid economic
growth and enormous disparities of wealth and Cuba where market
forces have been completely suppressed which tends toward a society
characterised by "generalisation of want". What is needed is
something in between the two.
Just finally on Cuba's relation with China. Cuba fulfills two
important strategic purposes for China. First, it possesses one of
the world's largest stores of nickel which is a vital component of
China's breakneck economic growth and second, its proximity to the
United States makes it an ideal listening post for the Chinese
military as it had been for the Soviets. There is a large base in
Cuba which listens in on US military communications now manned by
the PRC formerly by the Soviets.
Fred argues that only a Socialist China can protect its
territorial integrity. In contrast I would argue that China's
economic growth has allowed it to invest heavily in its military.
The Chinese leadership was shocked during the first Gulf War to see
just how far it was lagging behind cutting edge military technology.
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